Broad -The Spirited and Indomitable

Credit: ICC

March 12, 2008 – Just before leaving for a routine Project Management class, there was a report that caught the writer’s eye.

‘England axe Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard’. Stuart Broad and James Anderson, his long-time pace partner, were the two bowlers who replaced the senior pros for the Wellington Test. Some 15 years later, while typing vigorously to write on Broad’s retirement, this particular moment flashed in the mind like a bulb. At that time, Broad had played a solitary Test, and it seemed like the Peter Moores-led England think-tank was taking a huge risk by asking the Nottinghamshire pace bowler to be one of the leaders of the pace pack. The risk certainly was worth it, as when Broad decided to hang up his boots, he had a staggering 604 Test scalps against his name.

Broad’s long and fruitful journey had begun a couple of years before the New Zealand tour – T20I against Pakistan, in Southampton. The cameras zoomed in on the young bowler bustling to the crease and employing some nip-backers. The action was perhaps not refined. Tall and slight of frame. And the run-up was rather ragged. But he bowled every ball as though it was the final over of an Ashes contest. So enthusiastic was his appeal for an LBW against Shoaib Malik that he didn’t even care to look back whether the umpire had raised the finger. That unremitting belief in his own ability turned out to be the foundation stone of Broad becoming Mr. Durable of English cricket.

A year later, in the cauldron of Durban, his belief would have been tested. In a World T20 game, Broad shifted from over to round and back to over the wicket, but all he could perhaps hear was the thud sound of the leather against the willow six times in a row. Yuvraj Singh had just smacked him for six sixes in a single over. For the next few minutes, all the spotlight was on Yuvraj and also his banter with England all-rounder Andrew Flintoff. Broad wasn’t even in the picture. In hindsight, looking back at this event, it is difficult to envisage what would have gone through a young bowler’s mind.

Despite that debacle, the England management continued to show faith in Broad alongside Anderson. When the watershed moment of his career arrived during the New Zealand tour, he was ready. In just his third Test against New Zealand, in Napier, Broad showed sparks of brilliance. Yes, Ryan Sidebottom rightly took the Player of the Match award for picking up a seven-for in the first innings. Just that Broad also played his part by taking five scalps in the match. With that performance, he had vindicated the England camp’s belief that it was time to usher in a new era.

Despite showcasing the occasional brilliance, there were still lingering doubts on whether Broad would be one of the spearheads. He dispelled all those doubts with a career-changing 5 for 37 against Australia at The Oval in 2009. It was a clinical seam-bowling performance. A few deliveries nipped back off the seam against the right-handers, sprinkled with the occasional inswinger to the left-handed Michael Hussey. Soon, Broad was an Ashes hero. In the years to come, especially in home conditions, Broad would take over the mantle of being the attack leader against Australia.

While playing most other teams, Broad was a foil to Anderson. However, versus Australia, in his own den, Broad was England’s go-to man. In 2013, he ripped through the cream of Australia’s batting unit at the Riverside Stadium. A couple of years later, he was at it yet again: A sensational spell of 8 for 15 at Trent Bridge, that left Australia in tatters. Broad annoyed Australian players and their fans not just with the ball in hand, but also with the bat.

In the Trent Bridge Test in 2013, Broad had clearly edged one to the slip fielder. Unfortunately for Australia, Aleem Dar, for some reason, couldn’t spot the thick edge and adjudged it as not out. The way Broad walked across towards Ian Bell, his batting partner, as though nothing had happened gave a glimpse of his uncompromising attitude while playing the old enemy. Subsequently, when England travelled to Australia for the return Ashes, Broad was called the “27-year-old medium pace bowler” by the media. The Australian fans too indulged in some banter. It only spurred Broad to do better as he finished with 21 wickets.

Barring a couple of series in the UAE, Broad’s performances in Asia were below-par, but he found the conditions in South Africa to his liking. The spongy bounce and seam movement that the South African decks offered seemed to be tailor-made to his style of bowling. In 2009-10, Broad and Graeme Swann combined to dismantle the South African batting unit in Durban. Some years later, he was also instrumental in powering England to a series win at the Wanderers. It was one of those Broad streaks as he took five wickets for the cost of a solitary run in a spell. Scrambled-seam-nip-backers, bounce, inward angle from round the wicket, peppered with the short ball – He threw everything he had in his quiver at the South African batters.

At the start of a new decade, after England suffered yet another drubbing at the hands of Australia, he had one more challenge to conquer – To make a comeback into the side after being dropped. Broad, however, added another chapter to his already illustrious CV by bouncing back from the setback. A year later, in the ongoing Ashes, he is currently the second-highest wicket-taker. He even strengthened his artillery with an outswinger that moved a tad.

Incidentally, just a few years earlier in 2017-18, after England slipped to a 0-4 loss in Australia, some critics had wondered whether the end was near for Broad. The veteran seamer had looked a pale shadow of his former self Down Under. They were all proved wrong. Broad was down but not done yet as he sought the help of Sir Richard Hadlee and again found his groove.

Amid all the shining lights of his Test career, lest we forget he also was a natural striker of the ball during his formative years. The 169 he cracked against Pakistan at Lord’s in 2010 encapsulates the point. In limited-overs cricket too, he played a pivotal role in piloting England to a memorable T20 World Cup win in the West Indies in 2010 by scalping eight wickets.

Many moons ago, when Broad played for Hoppers CC, he perhaps looked at batting as his main skill. He wasn’t yet 6 feet in height, and bowled third or fourth change. At that stage of his fledgling career, not many might have envisaged one fine day Broad would retire as a legend of English cricket. But the man from Nottingham turned out to be a master at the art of perseverance. And had learnt the art of losing on occasions, the cardinal teaching that sport leaves you with, and get better.

From six sixes to 600 wickets, Stuart Broad has left a legacy few can equal.

Also Read: Stuart Broad Calls Time on Legendary Career

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